Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Following The (Majestic) Birds

"It's January," he stated the obvious to the audience, "meaning that we have a chance to view the beautiful majesty of the national bird of the United States of America. The bald eagles are in our region once again in much the same way the swallows return to Capistrano. The magnificent birds are making their annual stop in the Riverbend, sticking closely to the areas near the rivers so they can find food. But it's also somewhat for the entertainment of the human species, it would seem."

In the crowd someone makes a mental note: Surely, this is another person who is going to be attacked by groups of left-wing nutjobs or right-wing nutjobs. He's discussing the American Bald Eagle and hasn't brought up American Eagle Outfitters once. The crowd seems to notice this gaffe.
"How dare he not bring up an esteemed retailer!"
"For shame, not talking about the fashions we love to wear in the winter!"
"Does anyone remember the AMC Eagle in the 1970s?"

Oh, great. A skewed conversation already.

The speaker continues:
"It's around this time every year that the temperatures are cold and the eagles fly to the area around the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers as well as the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers, and points from about 125 miles north of here to about 125 miles south of here. We're among the luckiest of Americans because living near Alton gives us a clear chance to view eagles for several weeks. We've had visitors from North Carolina and Georgia who arrived after the new year just so they can take part in this human ritual --- following the bald eagles as they almost endlessly ride a wave of rising air above the waters near the bluffs, or take a dive near the locks and dam to the rushing waters where they have just spied the fish they intend to have for lunch. It's following these eagles that have resulted in some of the most beautiful large bird photographs in the twenty-first century. All visitors are encouraged to bring their binoculars, cameras and video cameras to capture the eagles in flight."

This is pretty good stuff, even though I have heard all of this before. But it gives me a moment to pause and reflect upon the many times when my family has gathered together to stop at the river's edge to look up to the sky and watch these large creatures with the brown (not just brown, but a beautiful brown --- almost an oxymoron to say beautiful brown on any creature) feathers seem almost completely still as they take an airstream and float high above the waters in wait for that exact moment that they are seeking so they may look like a WWII flying ace and drop in an almost straight line for the water where that gigantic fish is slowly --- at least to the bird it's slow --- moving around just below the surface.

I hear someone in the crowd of people gathered near the dam say "That fish is a goner, for sure."

No doubt about it as within a few seconds that bird has pierced the fish in just the right place and is flying toward the sky to who knows where so it can devour the tasty morsel.

"That fish could feed a couple of hungry men," says a man who is voicing almost exactly what I keep thinking as we all see what has to be a ten pounder in the talons --- it looks lopsided in favor of the bird, firmly a bald eagle which has been around the North American continent a few years.

We all watch as the bird rushes northwest up the river past the city of Alton and continues for a long way toward its hideout. Even with the best binoculars and steadiest hands or tripod with a telescopic lense, that bird is gone from the view in what seems like only several seconds. It may have taken three or four minutes in all to be out of sight, but it was traveling in such a strong, yet graceful, manner that it was being viewed by its human followers as only having taken a moment in time. Is it really possible that we witnessed this GRAB AND GO and it only took the time that gecko says it would take to convert our car insurance?

Alas, we are not able to see where the prey has taken its catch. So we return our eyes to the closer sky view and seek another one of these big feathered creatures and the chance to see yet another dive toward the waters, or one that slowly comes into view from the bluffs at Alton and finds a wave of air to ride for several minutes between actual flaps of its wings.

A young woman exclaims to her young man, "This never gets old to me. I just love coming out here year after year to see these majestic birds!"

And she has summed up what so many of us think --- and almost word for word what the nature guide says year after year as he turns to a group of viewers near the Mississippi with an American Bald Eagle in sight.

Let's do it again and again --- and be awe inspired by something we may never see up close.